Rob Casey is the owner of Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle and is the author of two paddling guides.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why Freighter & Tug Surfing is Safe

Recently someone said they felt the Freighter and Tug Surfing we do sounds frightening as the boats are so big, going so fast, how could it be safe?  Truth is, it's actually quite safe as we are quite a distance from each boat when the waves arrive. We're never in the shipping lanes, block marine traffic or take unnecessary risks.

The number of us surfing these waves are just a handful especially in non summer months.  The waves take work, patience and skill once the wave comes (not having a prior wave to show where it breaks or how it'll break).

Freighter Waves

Using we track freighters coming into Puget Sound on the AIS system.  We like boats going over 17 kts for a bigger wave of course resulting in a better ride and longer duration wave sets.

After the boats pass West Point (see diagram), it takes the wave nearly 20-30 minutes to arrive to the shore where we're waiting.  That said, the boat may actually be 5-10 miles from us in Ballard when the wave arrives. On the faster boats going 23 kts the boat may be passing Three Tree Point (Burien, WA) when our wave arrives.  Southerly winds and/or an ebb tide can slow the wave. Northerly and/or flood tides can speed it up.  Strong outgoing current from rain emerging from the Locks adjacent to our break can flatten waves coming in.

Learn more about our Freighter Wave Surfing class.

Freighter Wave Surfing Diagram

Tug Waves

Our tugs come out usually as a pair and pass through Shilshole Bay in a curve originating from the Chitenden Lock, passing West Point and then head south towards Harbor Island to pickup a load. Then they cruise up the Inside Passage to Alaska for 2 weeks.  If I have students out I'm in touch with the tug company to confirm we'll have a boat during our class time.

We catch the boat wave about .25 miles from their outer curve in the Bay. This is several hundred yards from the boats.  Like all boats big or small, their waves leave each side and push out forward but away form the boat.  Even if we were on it's stern, the water pushes at great force out thus pushing the boat forward.  There's no way we could get in there if we wanted to.  In a Seattle Times article on our surfing a few years ago, concerned folks who commented on the online page felt we were endangering ourselves and thus costing tax payer money for rescues.  Basic physics of how boats move forward work here thus there's is no way we can get sucked into the props. At any rate we're quite far from this section of the boat.  And we've never been rescued. But wedo get wet, but that's standard in surfing.  Our crew wear PFDs, leashes (sup) and dress for immersion.

The tugs can put off large waves but are very safe in that they don't put the gas on when there's other boats nearby. We don't have a tug day if rec boats are nearby.  If free of such boats, their standard wave at full speed can be up to 5' tall. We get 3 waves which we have to work dropping in.  On a good day we can surf nearly a half mile to West Point. Note our inside track vs the tug path.  This path is in a non boating area partially due to submerged rocks near shore at lower tides.

Learn more about out Tug Surfing class

Tug Surfing Diagram

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Understanding Tidal Rapids

I teach and love paddling in the tidal rapids of Deception Pass which is 1.5hrs north of Seattle. Much like a whitewater river, there's eddies, eddylines, holes, standing waves and swift current up to 9 kts.  Unlike a river, these rapids change direction four times a day, saltwater and are located on Puget Sound.

There's never an issue of low water, no current or a specific season in which they run. Unlike rivers there's no hazards such as big holes or strainers and the energy is concentrated in a small area vs the length of an entire river.  There's many tidal rapids on the Sound, some very small which only go a few knots, and others in British Columbia, Canada that run twice as fast as Deception Pass!  Look up Skookumchuck on Sechlet Inlet, Seymore Narrows, Surge Narrows, etc.
Tidal rapids are also a super way to build your overall rough water skills and confidence as well as cross train for other pursuits such as overnight open water trips, surfing, downwinding and racing. We also use tidal currents to give us a free tide to get to our destination quicker. Learning how to use them makes for covering a lot of water in short
time. Not planning for currents can lead to a long day! On December 6th 2015 is the Deception Pass Dash a legendary 6 mile race through the Pass in current which has gone on for nearly a decade and open to all paddle craft.  A super fun race to do or watch!
Tidal Rapids - When tidal current pulls or pushes saltwater over a shallow reef or narrow passageway thus creating river like effects such as waves, whirlpools, boils, eddy lines and swift current.  Search 'Surf Skookumchuck' for a stronger version up in BC.
Current - Horizontal movement of water. We use Current Tables for planning DP trips. Tides - Vertical movement of water.  We use Tide Tables for planning trips in areas of no or little current.  We'll use both in areas of mixed tides/current to determine if there will be a beach to land on and/or which currents use to get to our destination quicker or to avoid. Boaters and paddlers alike often wait for currents to change to make better time.  
Ebb - Outgoing tide - We prefer the ebb in DP for beginning classes. Easier to work with, cleaner lines.Flood - Incoming tide - Stronger than the ebb in DP, more advanced current in specific spots. Slack - 10-15min period between the ebb and flood. Usually no or little current.  
Mixed Diurnal Tides - 2 ebbs and 2 floods during a 24hr period. These are common in Puget
Sound. Diurnal tides with just one ebb and one flood are more common in the Strait of Juan de Fuca or Pacific Coast. Most tidal cycles here are 6 hours long. 
Tidal Exchange - General term for describing a full tidal cycle (approx 6 hours) from low to high tide or reverse. Here in Seattle we get larger daytime tidal exchanges in the Spring
from a -3 tide in the morning to a +13 in the evening. A cycle of this range means there's a lot of water moving in or out thus stronger currents.  

Spring Tides - Large tidal exchanges that occur not because of the season but during New and Full moons.Neap Tides  - Smallest tidal exchanges during quarter moons. Neap is the Saxon word neafte meaning scarcity. 
Eddy - Not Eddy Vedder or Van Halen! A section of water that pushes upstream due to downstream current wrapping around an obstruction like a rock. We use eddies to enter current from and/or rest in. Often bull kelp will be in eddies. Eddylines - The division between moving current and the eddy. It can flip a board or boat if you hit it wrong!Ferrying - Crossing a river without losing ground. Aim your board at approx 45 degrees to the downstream current (facing upstream) and watch your destination, usually another eddy.  Less angle for faster current. 

Reading Current Tables - 015-11-07 Sat 12:42 AM PST -0.0 knots Slack, Ebb Begins2015-11-07 Sat 3:13 AM PST -5.9 knots Max Ebb2015-11-07 Sat 6:39 AM PST 0.1 knots Slack, Flood Begins

What does this mean? At 12:42, slack gives us time to paddle through the Pass with no or
minimal current. A great time to enter and see the Pass look like a smooth(ish) lake. Soon thereafter, the ebb current begins to build but first as a trickle then rapidly growing in 2-3hrs to a Max Ebb, the fastest of the cycle. Then it tapers off and drops in the next 2-3hrs back to minimal current, then slack. Then it switches direction and the Flood begins - builds, maxes, drops, slacks, then ebb...
When I take beginners to current into the Pass, we go ideally at slack before the ebb. Canoe Pass is the most tame section, easily accessible from Bowman Bay. Canoe also has less boating traffic in summer. For the flood we enter at Cornet Bay. It's fun to enter on the tail end of the flood, work it until it dies, slacks then turns into the ebb, so you see a sample of the entire cycle!

Resources -
I use Captain Jacks and online sites such as Mobile Graphics for planning my trips and classes. I'm a visual person and need a simple visual guide to the tides/currents. Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation is the best guide I've found for understanding currents and tides for paddling. Author David Burch is in Seattle and owns Starpath School of Navigation. He has many marine guides on navigation and weather. Another fun one is his Tidal Currents of Puget Sound which shows using arrows how currents move in Puget Sound. Planning a trip? U need these guides! 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rescue Using One Paddle Board to Push Another to Shore

When I train my students and instructor candidates on rescues we cover a lot of options, as no rescue is the same.  Conditions vary, as well as gear and those involved or the situation which led to the rescue. It's best to have as many tools in your toolbox to be ready for any situation.

In the video below, I'm working with my PSUPA instructor trainees (from AK) to learn one of the most simplest ways to get another paddle boarder to shore without using a tow system.

In this method use your board to push another to shore. Here's a few tips to make this technique more successful...  Watch the Video Here or below..

- Work on your pivot turn and lifting your board nose out of the water by stepping on the tail of the board.  Doing so will allow you to place you board nose on their tail to better push them.  A common mistake in doing pivot turns is to walk on the board with the paddle blade out of the water. Instead as you walk, keep the blade flat on the surface of the water and knees bent for more stability.  If you get tippy get low - don't stand up with arms above trying to balance. Lower center is gravity is better.

- Try docking different types of boards onto various board tails.  A displacement pointed nose may not connect well to a 6" inflatable board or vice versa. Some boards will lock perfectly the first time, others not.

- Have the rescuee sit, kneel or lie prone (on belly) to keep a low center of gravity while being pushed.

- Try pushing the board from different angles and different parts of the board for varying effects. I've pushed boards at the middle just 5 feet from swift current into an eddy for safety.

- If paddling upwind, the rescuer and rescuee may both want to remain low to reduce wind drag.  Prone paddling certainly works for the rescuer.

- Play around by pushing multiple boards at once, even in a long train.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

8 Paddle Board Tips for Smarter Car Loading

Loading SUPs onto your car can be a difficult and daunting task.  Many struggle with this. A few years ago I came across a person in a local parking lot who was waiting for someone to come along to assist in putting their board on a car. 

A few tips for easier board loading...
Click Here for a video showing one of the easiest ways to load a board. It works for different lengths of boards and folks of different sizes.  Thule and Yakima both have rods that extend out from your rack bars which provide
Inflatable and epoxy boards on my loaner car
another option for this technique. 

- In high winds, ask a buddy to help you load your boards.  I've seen boards fly off cars, something to avoid.  Once you've put a board on the car, strap down at least one side if you're going to walk away or chat with friends.

Fin up or fin down? Surfers may tell you to go fin up over the windshield to avoid losing the board if your straps are loose. But if you check your straps for tightness, then this won't happen. I tighten each strap by falling back or down thus applying as much tightness as possible. If loading multiple boards and each have fins in, then go fins up offsetting the fins behind each or even on separate ends of the car.  If only one board, either fin up or down works fine. For my Subaru Forester, a fin down over the hatchback makes it difficult to access the rear of the car. I remove fins for multiple board stacking.  

- Have extra strap left over after tightening?  I tightly wrap loose ends around the rack towers and/or bars then secure in case a buckle fails. Buckles can fail so think as safe as possible.  Others may throw their strap ends into the car then close the door. 

Twist your rack straps while tightening.  This helps prevent straps from whistling while underway.  Check for
tightness after a few miles on the road as the twists can extend thus loosen up. 

- For long distance drives, I like to make my car more efficient by pushing the boards back as far as possible above the windshield which helps with wind resistance.  

- I prefer straps from Thule, Dakine, Seattle Sports and Mile22 which have texture which prevents the buckles from slipping as much.  I don't use ratchet straps as they can get too tight and damage your board.  After I secure the buckle, I do one knot with the strap next to the buckle in case it fails or slips.  

- Watch Robert Stehlik of Blue Planet Surf tie a board to his car in 30 seconds. Note that he does a shake test of the board at the end of the video. Definitely recommended!  

Search this Blog for more tips on loading a SUP or Kayak on a car.  I have several posts on the subject.  
Inflatables deflated and sandwiched between epoxy boards

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Stop the Stink - Sanitizing your Neoprene

Stop the Stink!  
Now that we're in wetsuit season this also means our equipment maintenance time has increased as well. After a class I have 2-8 pairs of booties to wash and dry as well as wetsuits. As a result I've become pretty good at cleaning gear and turning it around so the same gear is ready for the next class. Here's some easy tips to keep your neoprene gear from stinking up your car and/or home.  

After washing the sand off I place both my booties, gloves and (inside out) wetsuits in a plastic tub of cold water infused with either Dawn or Castile soap. I swish them around in the water then let them sit an hour or so. Some prefer wetsuit shampoos from McNett or similar products which have enzymes to further clean gear. I haven't found those particularly effective but others swear to those products.  

Rinse and Drip Dry the gear to get the soapy residue off in fresh water. Castile soap leaves a saltwater looking stain if you don't rinse it thoroughly. I then let my gear drip dry for about 1-2 hrs prior to adding heat (below). This speeds overall drying time. 

Wetsuits - After drip drying my wetsuits, I hang them on a shower rod in my downstairs bathroom. I then turn on an oil based floor heater and let them sit overnight. Note: wetsuits are dried inside out first, then reversed if you have time. There is a fan powered hanger product you can purchase which blows air into the suit while drying in a closet. These are great for travel.  

Booties & Gloves - Since I usually need my gear the next day, I use the DryGuy forced air ski boot dryers. You can find these at REI and related stores that sell ski gear. The dryer (see pic) has four tubes which blow hot air into your booties and gloves drying the interiors within an hour. They have a product called the Octopus which has 6 tubes if you have a lot of gear. 

Alternatively you can stuff newspaper or a rag into your booties to remove moisture. A cheap version of a bootie dryer is a blow dryer but don't leave it in the bootie as you may create another problem.  Some inventive friends are able to build a homemade bootie dyer from PVC tubing and then using a fan or blow dryer. I'd burn my house down if I went that route. :)

Storing Gear - To maintain that lovely clean and dry small, I'll throw in a few cedar chips or blocks with my booties and gloves (inside booties). Wetsuits are hung by thick hangers in a closet (or for me on a clothing rack) in a well insulated room.  

Check out this link from NRS which has good info on gear drying. Click Here

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Review - Kodak SP360 Full HD Wi‑Fi 360‑degree Camera

If you're looking for super wide angle views of our paddling, check out the Kodak Pixpro SP360.  I've been testing the camera over the summer and have come up with some fun footage showing 100% of my activity whether surfing, flat water paddling or viewing marine life underwater.

The camera shape is square and small thus easier to work with than most GoPro's.  The lens is a half circle dome which captures everything in it's view so nothing is missed.  Without the waterproof case they have a nice plastic dome cover to protect it.

Working the settings is easy even with a neoprene glove.  I'm not a multi-setting sort of guy but it has all the features of any similar camera, including WiFi and creative things such as split views.

The waterproof case is very durable and survived my normal drops and misuse of camera equipment. Much like GoPro the camera comes with a variety of mounts for all types of rigging from a paddle shaft, suction cup mount, helmet to a tripod mount. The camera fit easily in my PFD where I attached it to string to prevent it from falling out. I often prefer holding action cams for more custom results or to put underwater.

Click Here for Product Link 

Order on Amazon

Here's a few video clips from the camera...

                                            Underwater views of jelly fish in Puget Sound

                                              SUP paddling in Seattle's Chittenden Locks

                                                    Tug Wake Surfing on Puget Sound

                                                  SUP Tour in Seattle's Chittenden Locks

Monday, September 14, 2015

SUP Day Trip Tips

Last Saturday one of my instructors and I decided to paddle across Puget Sound, a distance of 4.5 miles from Seattle neighborhood of Ballard to Fay Bainbridge State Park on Bainbridge Island.

Daily I inform my students about paddling distances and what to do per their various levels. I point to Bainbridge Island pointing out it's distance, the skills required to make the crossing as well as the appropiate type of board to do so in a reasonable period to time. 14' to unlimited race board will take you about 1 to 1.5 hours whereas a surf style all arounder will take awhile longer.  Usually I joke, "Bring some ferry money just in case."

While 4.5 miles seems a short distance for many experienced paddlers the width of Puget Sound does include light current, wind can whip up quickly from 0 to 30 kts in 15 minutes, and there's considerable shipping traffic to avoid.  Some crossings feel like a cinch, while others can take considerably longer depending on the conditions.

During our weekend crossing I realized half way across that I left one of my power bars on the roof of my car and had forgot to bring my wallet in case I wanted to purchase more fuel near our destination. This was a last minute trip, with Joe and I deciding to do it only 2 hours prior, so the rush to get ready left us somewhat unprepared.  It ended without incident but we did both bonk (run out of energy) 1-2 miles from Seattle on our return trip. We paddled in at a snail's pace. During this period I realized I should pass on our mistakes for the day to my readers!

Here's a few tips on planning for successful day trip...

- Determine Your Route. Here on Puget Sound our crossings are short and we can see the other side SeaTrails which help me plan my route. Chart reading skills are necessary in using these and other charts by NOAA, an important skill.  Ask local paddlers about routes as well to get personal info to save you time. is a nautical publishing company that has many books and other info on gaining these skills as well as online classes.
View of Seattle from Bainbridge Island
without much effort. I use a series of waterproofed charts made for kayakers (paddlers) called

- Text or call a buddy or family with your trip plans, depart/arrival times, and contact info. This is called a Float Plan.  There are a few apps where you friends can track your movements via phone as well such as Boat Beacon and even Google Maps.  Make sure you have a full phone charge.

- Check weather and Tides via local weather sites and those with real time stats such as NOAA, National Weather Service, etc.  If in coastal waters check for swell and wind direction/size with NOAA again and surf sites such as MagicSeaweed, StormSurf, Surfline, etc.  We have a local version I use often.

- Skill Level - Once at the beach determine if the conditions are safe for your trip and skill level.  It's ok to cancel even if you've been planning this trip for weeks or just drove 4 hrs in traffic to get there.  Live to paddle another day.

- Always travel in groups - or not? If the group members are not skilled enough for the conditions and/or can't pay attention in rough water to you, then you may question if they're ready for the trip and/if you need to find more experienced friends to paddle with on that type of trip.

- Type of board. This is determined by your distance and how fast you want to get there.  A 11' surf style board will take a few hours to do  the 4.5hr crossing on way.  But a 14' or longer race board can cover that distance in a fraction of that time (with a good stroke). Both work.  Just a matter of your pace, time available, etc. I prefer my 17' and 18' boards for most effieciency long paddles.

- Check for Marine Traffic - Doing an open water crossing in a busy shipping area? We saw 4 cruise ships before we crossed back to Seattle. We had to determine whether to cross before the last one came our way. We decided to take a rest (as a sailboat did as well next to us).  Use and similar apps to get real time data on shipping traffic. You can also contact the Coast Guard to tell them your position and plan. They will broadcast your postition to shipping traffic to watch for you.

- Skills. To paddle distances efficiently and injury free (no shoulder pain) learn how to get a great forward stroke using your torso/core for strength.  Straight ish arms, reaching from your waist, paddling straight with a vertical shaft, exiting at your feet and feathering the paddle will get you there a lot sooner with a lot less effort.  Take a class and researching distance paddler techniques, will help.

Additional skills to consider depending on your route and location preferred - learn to get comfortable in rough water up to waist high waves, self rescue (getting back on in bumps) and helping others get back on (flip rescue, etc), towing using a tow system (not your leash).

- Physical Condition. Our paddle on Saturday ended up being 15 miles which included a round trip crossing of Puget Sound in open water. At one point we had to book it across the shipping lanes to avoid an incoming cruise ship.  Aside from being low on fuel we had the stamina, cardio and overall endurance to make the trip without a problem. My paddling buddy like myself regularly races, surfs and downwinds in up to 30kts of wind.  We could tow each other if needed.  We also knew when to turn around. We wanted to explore more but knew where our stopping point was to get back safely.

- Fuel. Race paddling and long distance touring are similar in regards to looking at nutrition, hydration and preparation for a trip even days before. A 3 mile versus a 32 mile paddle will have different requiements for preparation. Check out Suzie Cooney's new online book "How to Increase Your Stand Up Paddling Performance" on Amazon for tips on this. She has done several channel crossings and interviewed others on that topic.  A friend loves her Coopers V02 Max Test to determine his personal health plan for preparing for long paddles and races.

During our paddle, I left with 2 bars and several liters of water. We refilled our water bottles at a state park. I was using NUUN hydration but don't have a plan down with that product. Most racers I know test their hydration and get it down to a personal recipe that works for their body type.  Looking back, I needed approx 3-4 Cliff bars (or similar) and extra items such as the trail mix I left on my desk at home.  I'd rather have too much then run out.  And bringing my wallet meant I could purchase additional food if available.

- Storing Gear. Coming from sea kayaking I'm use to carrying gear. Most SUP'ers are minimalists and refuse to carry any gear even if their life depends on it.  I have NSI plugs on my 18' boards which have spectral loops to attach my kayaking style deck bags. For our trip on Saturday, I have one Seattle Sports parabolic deck bag which carried my essential items and water bottles on top under bungies.  Some boards have leash plugs on the deck to attach gear to.  You can add leash plugs on a fiberglass board if you or a friend has the skills to do it properly.  I dont trust suction cups.

Basic Stuff to Bring:

First Aid kit.  I this I have my migraine medicine which goes everywhere with me. Also electrolytes (NUUN tablets), bandaids, Advil, aspirin, tylenol (in mini travel tubes), cake icing in case my buddy is diabetic, Benadryl in case my buddy has bee issues, and Nauzene for seasickness. Chemical heat packets, sunblock. This is a super basic kit - add more or less per your situation and people you're travelling with. Eli-Pen, an inhaler or other prescriptions would also go in this kit. The kit is in a dry bag that is placed in the dry deck bag.

Repair Kit. Foil tape for dings (cut into strips); elect tape roll, carabiner, para cord (for leash string, pfd and other repairs); extra fin screws, bungie, multi tool, super glue (or Solarez & 5 min epoxy).

Safety Stuff.  Rocket flares, reflective mirror, whistle (on body), VHF radio (I use the floating and waterproof Icom products); paddlers laser (option for night paddling); waterproof flashlights to attach to PFD, etc.

More Safety Stuff - PFD & Leash - Since a recent high profile death of a pro paddler the industry and public are finally on high alert about safety.  We always had our leash and vest PFD on, now it's the thing to wear.  But interestingly, the minialmist SUP crowd is still trying to weigh between a leash or a PFD. For us it's a no brainer, we always (Wear) both.  Choosing to do none or one or the other in open water has a bit of Darwism going on - your choice! PFD on board but no leash means you loose you PFD when you lose your board.  Again I choose to gear myself up so I can paddle another day.

Stay tuned for future posts! Give me a holler for any questions!